In a Thursday press conference at the Capitol, Gov. Kevin Stitt acknowledged that hundreds of Oklahomans continue to be admitted to hospitals with COVID-19, but touted advancements in medical treatments for those who become infected.
"A drug called remdesivir is really starting to show promising signs. It's helping people. It's an anti-viral drug that's been shown to lessen the effects of COVID-19," Stitt said.
"We've really come a long way as far as our arsenal of treatments in regards to fighting the COVID pandemic," said Dr. Mousumi Som of OSU Medical Center in Tulsa, saying remdesivir has been shown to lower recovery times for coronavirus patients.
"Having these medications being added to our arsenal to help the public, not just in Oklahoma but nationwide and worldwide, is of extreme value," Som said.
Still, Som said preventative measures like hand-washing, mask-wearing, and socially distancing are of paramount importance to prevent requiring treatment for COVID-19 in the first place.
"Right now, if you look at the trends in the hospital, even practicing in the hospital now, you can see that we still have bed capacity. That doesn't mean that we do whatever we want so that we can fill the hospital. Really remember that preventative measure is what's going to get us through this entire pandemic, when it's seen simultaneously with influenza," Som said, adding there are worse outcomes for patients who contract both viruses.
State Interim Health Commissioner Col. Lance Frye was asked how the federal government was distributing its supply of remdesivir.
"I'm not sure exactly how they're doing that," Frye said. "If it's typical with the other things that we've seen, they're sending it to places where it needs to be allocated, where they have the need for it."
Officials at the press conference were also asked about the state's $2 million purchase of hydroxychloroquine, which had been touted by President Trump as a treatment.
"From a medical standpoint, hydroxychloroquine has fallen out of favor. It has fallen out of favor because there are several well-designed, randomized, controlled, some are placebo-controlled trials, that show it does not work either to treat or prevent COVID-19," said Dr. Douglas Drevets, chief of infectious diseases at OU's Health Sciences Center.
Asked by a reporter on the status of the Stitt administration's $2 million stockpile of the drug, Drevets said, "That's a great question for Commissioner Frye."
"It is -- yes, we have it stored. We have spaces for it at this time. We're looking at different options," Frye said.
Stitt repeatedly stressed the importance of wearing masks and socially distancing. A reported asked him about a photo circulating online of the governor this week in Guthrie, in a crowded indoor space, appearing to have a conversation while not wearing a mask or distancing himself.
"You know, I'm around the state. If I forgot to put [a mask] on, I don't know. People take pictures of me all the time and probably post stuff. It's some folks that probably have a different agenda than we do," Stitt said of the photo, which was posted to Facebook by the Guthrie Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the governor Tuesday.
"Again, I promote wearing masks. If I forgot to put it on and I was talking to somebody and somebody grabbed a picture, I don't have a comment about that," Stitt said.
Stitt also criticized journalists for their coverage of the pandemic.
"I think it's something that the news media really want -- we need to be focused on the active cases, because this cumulative number, if you keep adding on from March and April and May and you keep throwing -- I had COVID -- you keep throwing me into the cumulative, that's a little bit -- it scares the public. It scares people thinking about 75,000, or wherever we're at today," Stitt said. (The cumulative total of infections is the first statistic listed each day on the state of Oklahoma's COVID-19 website. Active cases are currently also at their highest rate ever statewide.)
Stitt also suggested the White House coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, published incorrect information in its most recent weekly report for Oklahoma, which listed the state as having the 5th worst test positivity rate in the country.
"I would encourage the media, and especially the Daily Oklahoman that printed that today, to look at Johns Hopkins, because that's the positivity rate that we track, and we're nowhere close to number 5th in the country. So that's one thing that we're going to make a call to the White House to find out exactly where they're getting their numbers," Stitt said. (As of Thursday, Johns Hopkins ranked Oklahoma 15th worst in the nation.)
Stitt, as he's done countless times, again dismissed the recommendation from Pence's task force that Oklahoma implement a statewide mask mandate despite the continued community transmission across the state in both rural and urban areas, saying "those reports a lot of times are just cut-and-pasted around to all 50 states," which is not true regarding the mask mandate section; many reports do not encourage a statewide mask mandate, ostensibly because their rate of spread is far less troublesome than Oklahoma's.
Stitt was also asked about the five deaths linked to COVID being reported by the Department of Corrections. He said his administration is "all over that issue," but that he would arrange a news conference with agency director Scott Crow in the near future.